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Thread: Rocky Mount Instruments (RMI/Allen Organ) Keyboard Computer I and II

  1. #1
    mp Mezzo-Piano AllenAnalog's Avatar
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    Nov 2014
    Denver, Colorado

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    Rocky Mount Instruments (RMI/Allen Organ) Keyboard Computer I and II

    I was prompted to start this thread because of an ad for an RMI Keyboard Computer I that recently appeared. (You can see my post about that here: )

    My interest in RMI was piqued when in 2013 I acquired a 1971 3-manual analog Allen theatre organ that had a 61-note RMI keyboardless Electra-Piano as a factory accessory. It is in a free-standing cabinet with a thick multi-conductor cable connecting the console to the RMI cabinet.

    Rocky Mount Instruments of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, was a subsidiary of Allen Organ Company. In addition to the keyboard instruments they made there, Allen farmed out some of their circuit board work to that facility. To quote from Jerome Markowitz's book Triumphs & Trials of an Organ Builder (pp54-55), "Facing the need to expand again, we decided to establish a subsidiary operation, Rocky Mount Instruments (RMI), in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, where land was inexpensive and labor plentiful. Many new products geared to the popular market and carrying the RMI label were designed."

    Unfortunately, after describing the development of the Rockwell/Allen digital organ Markowitz spends much of the rest of the book in an angry polemic about Ralph Deutsch and the souring of the relationship between Rockwell and Allen. I would have enjoyed reading more of the story of the adaptation of the MOS-1 technology to a combo keyboard instrument.

    Was the engineering and design work done in Macungie or Rocky Mount? One commenter on a YouTube video said that the Keyboard Computer was manufactured in Macungie. Which would make sense if that was the only facility equipped to test the Rockwell MOS boards.

    RMI made a number of interesting instruments over the years but the Electra-Piano seems to have been their first big hit.

    What makes this an interesting device for the organ crowd here is that the Keyboard Computer used the same Rockwell MOS-1 boards as the Allen organs and it had a card reader. Some of the cards were unique to the KC and have been discussed on this forum in this thread started by "circa1949" in 2011:

    Member "radagast" indicated in a post on that thread that he once owned a KC II. That thread also has some interesting links to more information about the Keyboard Computer, including good photos of the KC II. The photos of that instrument show organ-like rocker switches, five swell-shoe-like foot pedals and three foot switches, whereas the KC I had pushbuttons and four moveable pedals. I'll repeat a few of the links from that thread here so you don't have to jump back and forth so much.

    Interestingly, the last page of photos on the site linked above show a service manual from Allen that has schematics - not something they published for their organs of this vintage.

    Tom Emerick worked for Allen Organ Company and was involved with RMI for many years. His brief history is here:

    Gordon Reid wrote a longer history of RMI in the December, 2001 issue of Sound on Sound. He does not mention the Allen ownership but does shed more light on the history of the company, the Keyboard Computers (I and II) and the fact that RMI/Allen did not really understand how to market it. It is re-published here:


    Bottom line is that RMI introduced the first significant portable digital combo/keyboard instrument in 1974 the same year as their Harmonic Synthesizer.

    Here are two more pages from the Synth Museum about the Keyboard Computer I and II:

    This ad for the prototype KC I has lots of photos of the inside showing the Rockwell board so familiar to Allen MOS-1 organ owners.

    YouTube has a few sound demo videos of the Keyboard Computer including this short one:

    Here is an extended video demonstrating the KC II. At 10:00 minutes in he demonstrates the card reader:

    And an "Ambient Improvisation" on the same instrument:

    And then there's this fascinating collaboration between Clark Ferguson and organist Carlo Curley featuring the Keyboard Computer and the Harmonic Synthesizer. I gather that Ferguson was the marketing director for RMI and Curly went on to produce many recordings on Allen MOS-1 and later generation instruments.

    RMI closed in 1992, a year after Jerome Markowitz passed away. Their last new instrument, the DK-20 was introduced in 1979 and RMI ended production in 1982. If the closing date of the facility is correct, presumably the Rocky Mount factory was kept busy producing circuit boards and other parts for Allen organs for the next ten years.

    Perhaps if RMI/Allen had been more savvy with their marketing, demonstrating how to use this revolutionary product they would have avoided such a sad end. They had a truly revolutionary instrument for the time for a whole new group of buyers but if their marketing was driven by more by the organ people in Macungie, I guess that it is not surprising they failed to get a wider audience for the product.

    As noted by Gordon Reid, "Strangely, RMI didn't seem to know what to do with the KCII. The advertising of the day told you that it was not a piano, not an organ, and not a synthesizer, but failed to tell you what it actually was! Given that, two years before the arrival of affordable five- and eight-voice analogue polysynths, it was a 12-voice digital polysynth, this demonstrated amazing incompetence."

    Harsh words indeed.

    I hope others with more information (or corrections) about the KC I and II will post responses here. It would be interesting to know more about the special samples encoded on the Rockwell chips for this instrument, some of which are clearly not found on the MOS-1 organs that Allen built with these boards.

    Last edited by AllenAnalog; 01-09-2018 at 04:58 AM.

    Main: Allen RMWTHEA.3 with Rocky Mount piano, Allen 423-C + Gyro cabinet, Britson Opus OEM38, Saville Series IV Opus 209, Steinway AR Duo-Art, Mills Violano Virtuoso with MIDI, Moller Artiste organ roll player
    Lower Level: Hammond 9812H with roll player, Gulbransen Rialto, Roland E-200, Vintage Moog
    Shop: Mason&Hamlin AR Ampico piano, Allen ADC-5300-D with 18 speakers, 4 matching Allen tone cabinets (including 2 Gyros, but don't call me Gyro Gearloose!).

  2. #2
    ff Fortissimo radagast's Avatar
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    Jul 2004

    I don't have anything to add about either KC model. You've done a thorough job there. I will throw in a few things about the DK-20, if I am remembering properly. It used a newer digital system that I think Allen used somehow in their organs. I think there were only a few sounds available but they all had dynamic changes in timbre. Each sound had 4 chips with waveforms. Each of the 4 sounds would decay at a different rate giving a change in the harmonics. I think the DK-20 was meant to replace some of the analog piano type instruments RMI had made. I was in contact with someone who was burning replacement chips that were supposed to sound like a Rhodes. I was really interested in it until the Yamaha DX-7 came out.

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